Panda Tales

Trip Start Sep 01, 2004
Trip End Apr 25, 2005

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Flag of China  ,
Saturday, December 4, 2004

Hi Everybody,

We are always one or two steps behind on our travel log. Sometimes it is a pain to sit at one of these slow internet cafes and write, but all of your inspiring comments and the promise of a nice record to keep for our grand children keep us motivated. Sometimes it is a great way to just chill out and rest for a while.

Hey...for some reason, the Travelpod is not saving our draft copies as drafts and is letting you see them before they are done! I have a favor to ask, please don't look at them until we send you our email notice. It usually takes 3 or 4 sessions to clean up the spelling and grammer and finally get them ready for our perfectionist friends to read. You guys know who you are and I am sure that you will print them and mark them up with a red pencil for us when we get back!

Today we are trying to acclimate to the altitude of Lhasa, Tibet, which slapped us in the face as soon as we got off of the plane yesterday. Just getting dressed is an effort and leaves you panting.

On December the 2nd we flew into Chengdu in the Sichuan Province. It is not a tourist destination, but more of a jumping off point for tours, backpackers, and mountaineers who are entering Tibet through China. Tibet is treated like a country within a country, and you must get a special permit to enter. Of couse we just think that it is another way to collect another fee, but also to control who comes and goes. Anyway, there are only a few places which you can get the permit, and Chengdu is one of the main cities in China. The only problem is that we just found out that we won't be able to come back into China again through Nepal which was our plan, so I guess we'll figure that out later.

Right now I'll tell you about our visit to Chengdu.

We stayed at a typical guest house that arranges trips to Lhasa for backpackers. It was really convenient that way since the husband and wife owners spoke English and they were extremely helpful. I always feel like Don and I stand out at these places since we are sooooo olllld!

The first day was spent getting caught up on our laundry (they had a washing machine!), email, and planning our next leg. We have developed a rythmn, we spend a day washing clothes, reading travel books, planning, visiting travel agents and buying tickets, researching on the internet, scheduling on the calendar, shop for provisions....then go like hell for about a week. Makes taking an organized tour sound pretty good doesn't it?

In every town, if we have an opportunity, we go on a quest for the markets where the locals buy their food. Well, we found a great one in Chengdu. It covered about a big city block and seemed to have every possible edible thing in the world. The variety was astounding. Very fresh ingredients is important to the them and they buy their fish, chickens, ducks, etc. as close to alive as possible, so all of fish is alive in aquariums, or big tubs and so are the clams, snails, frogs, toads, crabs, and several different kinds of turtles. They butcher them right there. A bucket full of duck heads is pretty wierd looking. I have to admit that I gaged quite a few times, and had to close my eyes and hold onto Don's arm to get through some parts. The smells could send you over the edge.

Huge varieties of preserved, salted, and dried meats, from poultry to sausages hung everywhere. There were 10s of different kinds of mushrooms, both dried and fresh. It was pretty unbievable. I wonder how they decide what to eat every day.

They brought in big styrofoam boxes full of squid and about 20 people just started grabbing and yelling. Half of them ended up on the filthy floor. It is a fun watching them.

I had bought some beautiful laquer jewelry boxes from an artist in Pingyao, so had to track down a DHL office. Since we have been talking so much about scams, I thought that I should tell you an amazingly great story. We looked up the DHL office address on the internet, then had our hotel write it down in Chinese, then had to ask three taxis before we found one that thought that he knew where it was. We got out, and I guess they had moved or something and were not there. We asked a young man who spoke a little English if he knew where it was and of course we had to get more people involved. He then took us out to the street, flagged a taxi, got on his cell phone, called them for directions, told the taxi where to go, called again a couple of times until we found it, got out, paid the taxi for us, went into DHL to make sure we were alright, then would not let Don pay him, and ran off. We couldn't believe it.

The next day we got up early to see them feeding the pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base that is located in beautiful botanical gardens just outside of Chengdu. It was really a treat and we had so much fun watching them eat. They have many human characteristics and are more like monkeys then bears. They had some adults, some adulescents, and a few babies, one of which was in an incubator. They don't make good moms the first time around, so usually end up taking the babies away and raising them by hand.

We then made the rounds of some of the nicer parks in town, Du Fus Cottage, the bonsai garden, and Wenshu Park. It was Saturday and all of the families were out. There were the cutest kids playing and feeding the fish there. The Chinese people adore their children and they are mostly happy, clean, and well mannered. They are cute as a bug. In the cities families are only allowed 1 child, and then if they get pregnant again they are fined. Most of them don't have more than one. They are allowed 2 in the rural areas.

We had a great time people watching. We were stopped several times so that people could take a picture with us. They are so excited by it. Especially the young girls. There are always opportunities to get into conversations with young people because they study English in school and are excited to have someone to speak to. The Chinese people are so loveable you just want to take them home with you. What I really love about the Chinese is that they seem to have no inhibitions and will grab you and shove you next to grandma for a quick snapshot, or stop and stare at you if they are curious. It is surprising, but fun. Don thinks it's because I am short. Like I said, there are hardly any tourists in this town, and outside of the guest house, we didn't see any.

We stopped for lunch at a typical tea house in the park. It is a trip, because most people bring their own picnic, and either buy tea or just a thermos of water. There is hot water available everywhere in China and everyone carries around there water bottle full of tea leaves and their cup o'noodles. They make a big mess, then leave.

We ordered a bowl of dumplings, and while we were waiting, a guy with a small shopping bag full of sharp tools, like dentist tools, and little round brushes at the end of copper wires, came by and asked Don if he needed his ears cleaned. Don said for about a half hour this guy dug into his ears, and spun the brushes in his head like a chimney sweep. Then he stuck one of the brushes into each ear and took a tuning fork, hit it on the table, then layed in on the copper wire and it vibrated like crazy. So I guess Don got a tune up at lunch. He said that it felt like he just had a roto-rooter job done on his head.

Our plane to Lhasa was at 7:30am, so we had to hop a taxi at 5:30. Off for another big travel day.

It sounds like everyone is having fun Christmas festivities! Have a toast for us!

Love and Hugs,
Don and Jo
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